GROW Podcast: Interview with Ali Brooks, Social Worker, Artist, Goddess, Leader of Girls Empowerment group

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Ali Brooks does amazing work! She leads an empowerment group for girls with Maureen Cassidy right here in Madison. She is also an amazing artist and social worker who works with women who have experienced trauma. Find her website here: Medicine for the Heart and find the link to her girls’ empowerment group here.





A Mother’s Rights #15: You have the right to change your priorities.

Maybe before you became a mom, you were a fucking lion at work and hammered out 12 hour workdays, ate leftover Indian for dinner and got weekly massages. Maybe you spent most of your monthly budget on lingerie and had Outlander-style fantasy sex with your partner every day.

Then after holding a sweet heavenly baby in your arms for the first time, your world underwent a seismic shift. You stopped caring about the things that were happening at work. Instead you hid behind your desk skyping your baby and knitting booties. You abandoned beautiful lingerie for whatever bra worked best for pumping. You got sad being away from home and couldn’t eat Indian food anymore because it gave you heartburn. And every time you had sex, you peed a little because your pelvic floor was a like a stretched out old rubber band someone left in the sun.

Amidst all this change in your life, it may occur to you that your priorities have changed too. You may be looking around and saying: “Well, who the fuck am I now?”




Goddess, yes, things are changing. Your life is changing. Your body is changing. Your priorities are changing. YOU are changing. It is tempting to hold so tightly to the way you used to be that you cannot see the gift of who you are becoming.

Who you are becoming is someone with different priorities. You have to be. There’s a person now or more than one person who requires you for bonding and play and learning and care and sustenance. We are important.

To move deeper into the majesty of ourselves, we need to let go of who we thought we were just a little bit and little bit more. Because motherhood changes us in every way and it is 100% ok to let motherhood change you. To allow your desires and preferences and needs to slowly or suddenly shape your life into a new thing.

Maybe you taper down to 8 hour days at work or maybe you use your savings to stay home for the first year. Maybe you start cooking casseroles for God’s sake and trade your massages for baby and mom yoga. Maybe you wear organic cotton over-the-head bras with thick nipple pads and spackle your nipples with balm while your lacy bras gather dust in the back of their drawers. Girl, it’s fine.

Accepting the ways your priorities change is so healthy and good and nourishing. Letting the love that bonds you to your child sweep over your life and transform it is a natural and necessary thing. It is not just transformative to your life but to the world. Because the world needs women who let the elemental forces of motherhood sweep through them, sweep through their relationships and priorities.

These elementals forces help shape the future into one where motherhood is important and profound and sacred. Just like that sweet baby is important and profound and sacred and just like you are important and profound and sacred.

You have the right to change your priorities and to trust that whatever you dive into in this precious moment in your life, the essence of you and your goddess beautiful self will remain perfectly, exquisitely you.

A Mother’s Rights #14: You have the right to parent your own way.

My kids and I had a talent show in the living room this morning. We each took turns either singing a song, pretending to play the piano, dancing, or play-acting martial arts. The house is messy. The dishes weren’t done. I have an acrylic paint stain on the carpet that is waiting for me to clean. But this is how I parent and I like it. I like being with my kids and spending time enjoying their company in the morning before getting to the chores. It helps me feel grateful. I want them to feel the bonds that they have to each other and to learn that spending time with each other is as important as any work to be done.




If you could see the inside of my van, you would be horrified. In college, we used to go a bar that served free peanuts you shelled yourself and then dropped the shells on the floor. My van looks like that floor, except instead of peanuts, it is the remnants of every kid-friendly food. I let my kids eat in the car, because it is sometimes the only place they are sitting still long enough to eat.

For other moms, this style of parenting might be excruciating: playing games or dancing while there was work to be done. A van filled with crumbs and wrappers.

But they’re not me.

There is value in different ways of parenting. But the real value for you and your kids is how YOU parent. Letting them see you. Letting your style flourish. Doing what works. There is joy in expressing yourself through parenting and, yes, parenting is an art form. Your style is unique to you.

You create something with your children through the design of your days with them. They learn how to bond and prioritize, how to balance play and exercise and work and thought. But they also learn by watching you navigate your day. And your way of doing things is great if it works for your family.

Likewise, it is good practice to check your horror at how other people parent. For me, seeing kids at a playground in pressed, spotless clothes while their mom shouts, “Oh, now look! You’ve gotten dirt on your shoes!” is a real test for me. Or toddlers with gigantic bows as big as their heads and lacy skirts who look like they want to tear everything off and run naked in the grass.  It helps to be curious, be accepting.

No family is the same.  And most likely, you are doing it just right.

A Mother’s Rights 13: You have the right to say no.


This is an oldie but a goodie and gets a lot of mileage in the mom world. In Paul Coelho’s words, “When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” Basically, know yourself. Prioritize what’s important to you. Then live that.

Suuuuuper easy. Hahahahahaha.

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If you can indulge me for a bit, I’d like to walk with you down a little bit of a deeper interpretation of this. I brought water and trail mix: the kind with almonds and dark chocolate, not that bullshit peanuts and off-brand M&M’s kind.

We all get the surface meaning of this basic right. Say no to things that will wear you down, stress you out, or just aren’t important to you. Like, if you have a busy week, say no to making brownies for the bake sale. If your kid has the flu, say no to carpooling soccer for your neighbor. If you don’t want to drive across town after a long day, say no to book club tonight. Logistically, don’t fill your schedule up with things that will overload you. BUT, what if the importance of saying no goes deeper than that?

Understanding when and how to say no at a deeper level starts with understanding how to listen to ourselves so we know what’s important to us and what’s not.  What is your yes/no spectrum? How do you say yes to life, to new experiences, to nourishment, to bold ways of being you AND say no to hurtful people, careless treatment, and stretching beyond your healthy limits?

This kind of discernment starts with practicing a deep and passionate love for who you are so that there is room for yes to come forward.  Actively practice loving yourself. Identify things that make you feel good without question. As in: I lose 10 pounds of stress when I dance to Sean Mendes. I love walking in the arboretum. Putting mascara on makes me feel like a powerful influencer. My painting is my happy place.

Make some room for these big yes feelings. Remember yourself.

Equally important: make room for uncomfortable feelings you may not initially welcome. Things like: I can’t stand hearing my baby cry right now. I’m so angry my dad is passive-aggressive about my parenting style. I wish my partner would leave me alone right now. My eating is out of control and I’m scared.

These uncomfortable feelings need to be seen and heard too. Feelings are temporary, you are not. Getting to know your uncomfortable feelings and allowing them to be seen will help you know your real self, and love your whole self.

So far: discover what you feel and what you like. Discover what you’d rather not be feeling and things you dislike. I am making this sound so easy, but for those of us who molded ourselves based on who we thought we should be, it takes some serious dedication and practice. Thank God for yoga and friends.

Discovering your personal yes/no spectrum continues with making room for ‘no’ to come forward without pushing it to the side. You have preferences. It’s ok to hear what they are. Begin listening for your inner talk of:

I can’t say no to that or….

my partner will get mad
my friends won’t understand
my kids won’t like it
my colleagues will laugh at me
I might lose something
I might feel something I don’t want to feel
I might miss out
it could be a mistake
I won’t be pleasing others
I might hurt someone’s feelings

Hearing that inner talk and recognizing it as fear and old programming will make room for really, truly who you are to come forward. You might have a really strong “FUCK NO – I’M NOT DOING THAT” come forward. Or you may notice a gentle “I’d prefer not to, but I’m really ok with it.” What you choose to do with your preferences is then totally in your power.

This book: Getting Real is a stunning map of how to identify YOU amidst the chatter of your mind and feelings, and how to bring that you to the surface in a real way. It is so massively helpful in navigating self, life, thoughts, wanting things to be different, wanting people to be better, wanting yourself to be perfect, wanting anger to go away, needing to feel more connected. Just everything.

When you begin to know yourself and stop living your life based on expectations of who you should be or what you should do, saying no becomes a fun experiment.

What does no feel like in my body and mind? Tight shoulders? Stomach pains? Does a strong no feel different then a weak one? What does ‘yes’ feel like? Am I smiling? Excited? Relaxed? Do I feel sexy? Friendly?

Saying no is about you honoring you. The real you, the one in your big juicy heart. And won’t your kids be amazed to see this practice of self-discovery in action? They are so lucky to have a mom like you.

A Mother’s Rights #12: You have the right to receive help.

Please God do not try and do everything yourself. There is not a single ounce of shame in having someone else drive your kids to school, deliver your groceries, do your taxes, carpool your kids to events, clean your house, organize your closets, move your furniture, do your Target run, return your library books or WHATEVER you need done.


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We came from villages. It is an odd custom we have in this country to raise and parent and get everything done within our tiny family unit. Where is the time to breathe? If we feel pressed for time it’s because we are doing all the things that entire villages used to do for and with each other.

Imagine if you had a whole tribe full of people who could hold your bag and your coffee and watch your baby while you went to the bathroom. Or who could take your kids on a walk while you took a nap. Or if you had to only make dinner once a week because every other night of the week a grandparent or neighbor or someone else made dinner for you and your family. Or, as in some indigenous tribes, if a close family member was in charge of disciplining your kids so you could just enjoy being with your children.

Asking for or accepting help is a sacred concept. And yes, it’s tough to ask for things that in a perfect world should be offered: like at a family gathering, asking for someone to hold your fussy baby so you can eat your dinner while everyone else is already eating dessert.  The word “help” used to not have the intrinsic sense of self-lack we’ve ascribed to it. As in, if I need help I must be lacking in some way. I must not be as independent as I need to be. The truth is, you need help because you weren’t built to do it all. None of us were.

How many times do you imagine yourself as lazy for not wanting to devote every waking hour to other people? “Oh, I’m feeling lazy tonight so I didn’t make a healthy dinner and I let the kids watch TV.” You are not lazy. If you are a decent parent, as you likely are if you are reading blogs about parenting, you are working hard. Revising your emotional and mental and physical output to meet your own mothering stamina is smart. Replenishing your energy is good. Taking a break is not lazy, it’s wise. And so is asking for help.

How did we go from feeling fine as carefree childless people with non-stop free time…literally endless hours of doing whatever our single brains told us to do…. to judging ourselves for burning out from the non-stop hours of service we give to our children?  With children, free time became parenting time.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that tired=lazy or that worn-out=weak. As a mother, you are dealing with untethered toddler or teenage emotions. You are creating and dispensing milk from your own body. You are cleaning up vomit from sheets at 2am. You are literally attending to the feces of other human beings for YEARS. You are not lazy or weak for wanting someone to bring a cooked meal to your door or clean your bathroom for you.

To bring our village back, we need to be visible. To ourselves and to others. To say what we want and need out loud.

Tied into this, of course, for a lot of us is that we have a hard time receiving good things. Often we don’t even know what we’re supposed to be asking for. Or what it is that we’re not receiving because we don’t know how to recognize its absence.

This can be delicate territory for partners who are not used to contributing equally to household tasks. When you have children, suddenly it becomes glaringly offensive if your partner doesn’t do dishes or laundry and never has. It becomes necessary for both partners to contribute to chores and errands in order to prevent burnout. And ideally, recognition for and sharing the invisible workload that we often forget we are doing. In this case, asking for help feels a lot like asking for equality, which can be a seismic shift. But with love and compassion, it can be broached. Especially if you start by seeing the value in the invisible, emotional, and unseen work of mothering.

In my mom’s interview, she spoke about how the stay-at-home moms she interviewed in the 70’s didn’t recognize their own work as moms because they didn’t really know how valuable it was. To ask for appreciation and receive the good that can come from being seen, we must see ourselves as good and recognize our own work and worth.

Instead of imagining yourself as needing to do the hard work of parenting and running a household all by yourself and feeling like a fat failure for struggling and wanting help, think of your parenting work as the work of 5 people that you are trying to do all by yourself. In this case, it’s not a failure to receive support and help. Help is natural and a necessity. Receiving help actually brings forward the wisdom of having a supportive family, a tribe, a village. It brings the unseen work you do out into the open where it can be seen and acknowledged so hopefully, eventually help will be offered before you even need to ask.


A Mother’s Rights #10: You have the right to make eating easy.


My Irish great grandmother had 13 kids and spent some of her life working the family potato farm in Michigan. In the Midwest 1800’s, there weren’t refrigerators for home use, nor were there chicken nuggets or frozen pizza or oranges or boxed mac n’cheese. When I think of the labor that went into preparing a meal while also making sure that 13 CHILDREN didn’t somehow fall into the fire or die playing with farm equipment….let’s just say I’m thankful for Costco.


you have the right to make eating


As preparing food as gotten simpler, somehow expectations of grocery shopping and meal prep have skyrocketed into the extraordinary: organic, grass-fed, whole grain, non GMO, unprocessed, gluten-free, dairy-free, sustainably raised, locally harvested food. There’s some floating societal expectation that all of us have the money to buy high end, have the organizational prowess to meal prep for the week, and have the desire to spend time cooking meals that will magically delight every member of the family.

There’s also a message of what you should be doing to create health and wellness in your family. However, if trying to achieve these standards brings your wallet and stress level to the breaking point and you are the person suffering for it, then it’s not creating health at all.

I challenge you to discover how you can make buying and preparing food easier for yourself. Not healthier, but easier. Because, likely if you are reading this you are already working your ass off trying to keep everybody eating healthy.

When my oldest was 3, the savior of my world was some mom blogger who posted an article about monkey platters. These plates are a mini-buffet for kids who graze and can’t sit at a table for more than 20 seconds. The frustration that develops from trying to get a toddler to sit and eat will pretty much halt all of your own digestion, interrupt your meal 20 times, and end with nobody being happy.  Creating a monkey platter and allowing them to graze rather than sit at a table for a “meal” can relieve a vast amount of stress. It only took me 2 years to learn this.

So what works to create ease? Maybe stop fighting about whether your toddler needs to sit and eat and instead put out a monkey platter. Don’t stress over whether your 6 year old can have screen time with her cereal and just say yes to it if you need an extra 30 minutes to hit the snooze button. Your 10 year old is old enough to make his own toaster waffles- just think, my grandfather was likely plowing fields at 10 years old. So your child can operate a toaster for God’s sake and he will survive without homemade french toast every single day, unless making it truly brings you joy.

And dishes. This may get me in trouble, but I’m going to admit that when things are busy and time is short, I allow paper plates.  A couple dirty plates may not seem like a lot but there are five of us. Five plates times three meals and two snacks times three kids = 21 plates to wash every day. It’s not the 71 PLATES that my great grandmother would have had to wash using the same math, but she obviously was way tougher than me and likely did nothing but wash dishes for hours a day. Or more likely, every child had one plate and washed it themselves. Ok, I love that idea. To gain her strength and wisdom, I will give away all but 5 plates and start my potato diet tomorrow.

Meantime, on a day when there’s a diaper blowout or someone pees the bed or I have spilled my coffee all over the rug (seriously, how do you get coffee out of the rug) some recycled plates are forgivable.

Grocery delivery, printable meal plans, and meal-kits brought to your door are all wonderful, too. Any way that you can loosen your standards if they feel too tight, if they are creating stress for you, is good. Identify what’s not working for you and aim for what might work. Try something new and simple. If your 7 year old wants to eat under the table and it means he won’t argue about eating, great. Try it for a week. Give them granola bars and smoothies for lunch. Make things a little easier on yourself. Let the expectations go just a little. You can always make a change whenever you need or want to.

Food is even more nourishing when stress is removed from the equation.




A Mother’s Rights #8: You have the right to explore who you are now.


This could be 18 posts, not just the one. But I’ll try to keep it short. If you need more about how important it is to honor yourself and your journey and to find a way to fucking own it, you can find more here and here. And go to

Here it is in a nutshell. You are important. Motherhood is transformational. You have a right to know who you are.


you have the right to explore who you are


Motherhood is as much about self-discovery as it is about discovering your children and the world through new eyes. As the spiritual guru Rajneesh said:

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”

And that is you.

You may find yourself thinking new thoughts, feeling unsatisfied in relationships, wanting to leave a job behind, hoping to go to school, wanting more sex or not caring about things you used to think were essential: religion, fashion, status, whatever.

To mildly put it, keeping up with who you are improves your quality of life. You have every right to explore your feelings, thoughts, sensations, body, preferences, regrets, longings, nuances, hopes, and passions.

If self-exploration is new to you, future posts will include ways to help you get started. Or check out the services I offer to work with me.